Life is unpredictable. With errands to run, kids to watch, and an ever-moving world around us, we all face unpredictability. As new parents, Yvone and Ralph faced an unfamiliar side of unpredictability; a special needs child learning about the world himself.
“Ethan was diagnosed with autism and apraxia at one year of age. He stopped talking at 11 months old. We were always on edge, worried, tired, all the negative things you could imagine parents of a special needs child would be,” said Ethan’s mom, Yvone. “Ethan is our firstborn. We were new to parenting, and to add to that […] trying to figure out what was wrong, then getting a diagnosis, then another, then another. We were busy!”
After his diagnosis of autism and apraxia at age one, Ethan’s parents were trying to keep up “…then came ADHD, and anxiety. Then we discovered he has premature atrial contractions so the top part of his heart beat faster than the bottom,” said Yvone. “At that point, the doctor had said he needed to get off all stimulant meds,” which included ADHD medication and caffeine.
Then, Ethan was diagnosed with a form of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Without ADHD medication “things were declining. Nothing helped.”
In a moment of peace, eyes glued to the pages of her magazine, the answer appeared in front of her. “I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea that a dog could help with autism. This article was saying that there is a dog out there that could meet all of Ethan’s needs. I read the article and just cried,” Yvone remembers. “The end of the article had a list of service dog organizations and 4 Paws was on the list,” and Ethan’s family made a decision they “would make again in a heartbeat!”
In April 2019, Ethan met his service dog, Greta. The service dog team hasn’t looked back since. “It has always been difficult for Ethan to display emotions, but around Greta, you see them. He shows empathy, he hugs her, he is always loving on her,” says Yvone.
Greta’s training includes a number of tasks, but her ability to manage Ethan’s meltdowns has been incredible. “We can go weeks in between meltdowns at home, they have decreased by at least 80%,” says Yvone, “and Greta jumps in should a meltdown start.”
Four years since they met, Ethan is still learning life, with Greta by his side. “He wants to be more independent now and is actively trying to learn to do that. He talks to her and she responds. He has a friend. His girl loves him,” Yvone says.
“Ethan has become happier and more independent since we got Greta. It’s been wonderful to watch and experience.”